Photography by Girinandini Singh with permission for Varsity

Who amongst us can honestly say that, at some point during their time at this university, they have not briefly fantasised about piling their problem sheets into a dustbin, lighting it on fire and running away to open a bookshop? While it might not seem like the most thrilling form of escapism, the bookshop in which this play is set is a rather pleasant place to spend an hour and a half. Sadly, the production as a whole failed to shine.

The plot of the play centres around three couples, who are all in various stages of their relationship. The moments of the play which I found most endearing were the exchanges of dialogue between the two owners of the bookshop: Gee (Cecilia Wallace Painter) and Zae (Riya Hotwani). The wonderful old-married-couple-y dynamic between the two provides much warmth and stability in the first few scenes. However, they soon begin to have their own relationship issues, adding theirs to the growing mountain of personal conflict which this play makes its subject.

“While not enormously creative or impressive as a piece of theatre, I would not discourage anyone from going to see this play”

While there are initially enough light-hearted scenes and comic moments to make for enjoyable watching, by the mid-point of the show every relationship is in crisis and every character is miserable and angry, decimating the feel-good atmosphere and making for rather exhausting viewing. This is a show which falls between two stools: it is not consistently funny enough to be a comedy, and what with all the to-ing and fro-ing between storylines the dramatic moments lack sufficient emotional build-up to pack a proper punch.

Having said this, the actors all do a pretty good job of playing out both light-hearted and dramatic scenes. Mikha’el Seth gives a particularly impressive tearful monologue at one point, and the dynamic between his character Davy and Rich (Oscar Griffin) is another high-point of the show. Lucy Carter and Jago Wainwright are fairly convincing as new lovers Kallie and Chad, who meet and embark upon a relationship. It is a shame that we don’t get to see much of this relationship before it totally falls apart for – it must be said – rather weak reasons.

“Sitting in the other section I felt as though I was watching the whole thing from the wings”

I must admit, however, that it was the comedic supporting characters rather than the six main actors whose performances I most enjoyed. Katy Lawrence and Perrin Ford play various irritating and weird customers delightfully, and the play would have certainly benefited from more of these skit-like scenes which are both funny and remind the viewer that they are in fact watching a play about some people running a bookshop. Without a doubt the audience’s favourite character, and the one whose presence on stage made me actually laugh out loud a few times, was the pantomime-villain-esque landlord played by Clara Springman. This character, named Mr Maradaia, appears periodically, dressed in fabulous and increasingly insane outfits in order to confer some ominous threat about raising rent onto the owners of the bookshop, accompanied by an evil chuckle or two.

Mr Maradaia’s brilliant ensembles aside, the costume design is understated yet effective. Similarly, both the set dressing and Ash Scully’s sound and lighting design nicely evoke the scene of an independent bookshop. The first minute or so of the show, in which the only sound is that of rainfall and we see Gee and Zae going about their business in the shop is a nice opening, the peace of which contrasts dramatically with the turmoil to come.


Mountain View

Celebrating queerness with Lavender Beards

One last quibble I have is with the staging. It is undoubtedly challenging to block a play in the Corpus Playroom due to the fact that you have an audience on two sides of the stage. However, while most productions consider this and find a way of playing to both sides simultaneously, this show was seemingly performed exclusively to the block of seats furthest from the entrance. Sitting in the other section I felt as though I was watching the whole thing from the wings, and that I might at any moment be called upon to pass someone a prop or drop the curtain. I only really mention this so you know where to sit if you do go and see the show.

While not enormously creative or impressive as a piece of theatre, I would not discourage anyone from going to see this play. It’s fun. It’s certainly very queer. Spoiler alert: there’s a happy ending. As exhausted students at the end of exam term, isn’t that all we really need?